30, April 2017
After a nebulous group known as the consortium of parents dragged the Bishops of the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province to court to answer a seven-count charge brought against them, L’Effort Camerounais caught up with the Archbishop of Bamenda to have his reading of the present imbroglio. Excerpts:
How do you react to the recent court summons of the Bishops of the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province?
My reaction is certainly one of disappointment because, in the first place, I do not know who is dragging me to court especially as the supposed plaintiffs have denied that they are not the ones responsible for the court summons. They accuse the Bishops of failing to ask parents to send their children back to school and of condoning to the acts of those who illegally requested for boycott of school thereby causing some confusion and persistently refraining from performing the duties of teaching children. They further accuse us of condoning to the resistance organized by some individuals and thereby causing social unrest.
On the contrary, the Bishops have issued several communications all in an attempt to appeal to the parties to seek a peaceful solution to the current social unrest plaguing our country. In all our communications and, even in my homilies, violence in all its forms and no matter the origin has been vehemently condemned. We have never asked or encouraged anyone to organize ghost towns or civil disobedience. We have never closed down our schools or sent any child away who wanted to be taught. Parents themselves chose to come and withdraw their children after news spread that the gate of Sacred Heart College Mankon was vandalized. In effect, we have lost enormously because over seven hundred million had been spent in buying food stuff, books and didactic material for the running of schools. Unfortunately, all fees had not been paid when the strike started so the money has not been recovered. Instead we stretched beyond our limits to get money with which we paid teachers and supported the staff for several months after the strike started. We held meetings with parents and teachers to discuss the possibility of reopening our schools but parents chose not to send their children. To be accused now of not having ordered schools to resume is surprising. So, I am totally disappointed in whoever is behind this act.
Do you think someone is behind all this and who could that be?
Yes, I strongly believe so but I do not know who. I say this for a number of reasons. In the first place, because the representatives of the so-called “Consortium” are mostly military personnel. Secondly, because one of the charges is that my refusal to pay teachers’ salaries is causing a loss in taxes to the State. So I do not know if their interest is the loss of taxes to the state or it is the children’s welfare they are interested in. Our schools have Parents Teachers Associations right up to the diocesan level and nothing like a consortium of parents as the summons indicate. No one has brought any complaints against us with regards to the social unrests and we refused to listen.
Furthermore they accuse us of propagating “false information liable to injure public authorities and national unity” and of attempting to justify “grievances and apprehensions which is being carried out against the security of the State”. So, from the look of it, there is someone behind all this and I am anxiously looking forward to meeting whoever is calling the shots.
Does the Church have a preference for a particular style/system of government?
Not at all, because the Church does not meddle in politics and has no political leanings. In our memorandum to the Head of State we have advised the government on what to do to have a peaceful solution to the existing problems. That is the best we can do as the voice of the voiceless that we are. We can only advise but cannot impose on the government. We do this by presenting to the government what complaints the people have and how to go about solving them. The Church is strictly apolitical and does not express any preference for a style of government.
You are aware that Christians from all over the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province were mobilizing to storm the courts had the matter not been suspended. Do you encourage such an action?
I am aware of this because I received calls from Yaoundé, Douala, Buea and other towns. People called to give me their moral support, to reassure me of their prayers and to inform me they will be in court with me because they are the parents who refused to send their children to school and not the bishops. I informed the Governor of the North West Region just in case he did not know about it so that he takes his responsibility to ensure there is maximum security so that the peaceful protest march the people had planned to have will go on without escalating into violence. As to whether I encourage them, I would say I did not ask anyone to accompany me to court and in my communiqué to them about the summons, I only asked them to pray for a peaceful solution and to remain calm. But I think people are aware that they have a right to express themselves and that is why they chose to accompany me to court.
Do you not think a situation like that could stir another uprising or could be considered by government as such?
I would not have cautioned the Governor about impending danger if I did not foresee that some people could take advantage of the planned peaceful protest march to cause chaos. I already mentioned that all along we have been condemning violence no matter the source. So, I have to do what I can to avoid it.
Christ’s Faithful in the Diocese of Buea were bracing up to travel to Bamenda in solidarity with the Church in Bamenda and Kumbo. Is Bamenda going to do same to Buea, Mamfe and Kumba?
We intended going down to Buea as well for the simple reason that actually it is the Church’s hierarchy in our Ecclesiastical Province that has been dragged to court. And since there are two regions, they cannot, from a legal point of view, bring the Bishop of Buea to come and answer charges in Bamenda. So, all the Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province are in court just as all the leaders of the Presbyterian and Baptist Churches in the two regions are also in court. So, the difference is only where one answers the case because the charges are the same. One of the accusations in the summons is about “the Catholic Church”; and that is a very serious accusation. It would have been totally different if I were accused as the Archbishop of Bamenda or if it were the Bishop of Buea, for example; but as the Catholic Church, I am afraid the Holy Father may have to come and answer the charge in this situation because he is the head of the Catholic Church. So, that is the gravity of it.
So, what will be your reaction if whoever is dragging the bishops to court suddenly realizes this gravity and decides to withdraw the case?
They are free to do so. If they think that they have no charges against us or that they are accusing us wrongly, they are free to. We are only praying that we should not go into situations that are meaningless; things should be founded and should be done properly because nobody enjoys going to court. And the question you asked, as they always say; “have you looked for a peaceful and amicable solution to the problem before going to court?” That is why I would have expected those who are bringing us to court to confront us and if we cannot satisfy them, if they have founded grievances, then they are free to go to court. This explains why the issue of the Church being dragged to court is really an embarrassment to us and I think to anybody. I hope that they will not keep on suspending the case indefinitely because justice delayed is justice denied.
Your Grace, the matter in Buea has been postponed to the same June 5, like that of Bamenda. What reading do you make of that action?
Well, they have a right to put it on whatever date suits them. If they have chosen to put both cases on the same day only they know why they have chosen to do that. I cannot interpret their act. But I know that the reason advanced for postponing the case in Bamenda is not convincing enough. The death of a lawyer or any court official should not cause the entire court to close down. That of Buea is even worse because no reason for its postponement was advanced.
What do you think can be the quick solution to the current social unrest and how soon can that be?
I think the solution is there. We have the knife and the yam. It is very clear. By “we” I mean the Cameroon nation and its authorities. We have the knife and the yam because we have more than a 50-year history. All these problems are man-made and we have been living through them. Let us have the courage, as I said earlier, to take the bull by the horns, look at the problems in the face and look for meaningful solutions. We would be a more peaceful country. This can only be done through genuine and honest dialogue and with the establishment of a truth and reconciliation committee. Cameroon has been hailed for being an oasis of peace. We do not want to lose that. We want to continue being an oasis of peace and we want to continue being an example to follow in our sub region. We do not want to push things to a point that people become exasperated and do foolish things. Let us listen to one another, accept one another and do things in one another’s interest.
But Your Grace, there was dialogue with the inter-ministerial committee and the Prime Minister made several trips to the North West to dialogue with the people. Are you insinuating there was no genuine dialogue?
When it started the inter-ministerial committee seemed to be in genuine dialogue with the teachers’ union leaders. But shortly after the discussions, some leaders were arrested and are still in jail. This shows there was some bad faith and no trust in the people they were dialoguing with. I have the impression that the PM did not come to dialogue but to present an agenda of a prepared solution to the problem without true and honest dialogue. In this case there was no dialogue but a monologue because he spoke and everyone listened to him but he did not listen to anybody. So I insist that people should face the facts as they are and listen to each other during the dialogue.